‘Eternals’ Director Chloé Zhao Teases Her Unexpected Creative Freedom

     September 2, 2020

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On a big-budget movie, particularly one produced with tons of expectations both financially and culturally, certain creative risks have to be curtailed to make sure the train stays on the tracks and the bottom line stays where it needs to be. But the Marvel Cinematic Universe seems to be determined to buck this trend, giving directors like Taika Waititi and Ryan Coogler ample room to make the movie they want to make, personalized styles and all. And based on a Hollywood Reporter interview with Eternals director Chloé Zhao, this MCU style of “letting directors be” seems to be continuing.

Zhao first broke through with her indie western Whale Rider, a 2017 film that helped get her noticed for both Eternals and her upcoming 2020 feature Nomadland, starring Frances McDormand. The latter is an independently-minded prestige picture with Oscars on its mind and not a ton of money at its disposal. And yet, according to Zhao, the process of making Eternals felt very similar:

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Image via Sony Pictures Classics

“I shot exactly the way I wanted to shoot. On location. A lot of magic hour. Three-hundred-sixty degrees on the same camera as I did on Nomadland. Same rigs. It’s a bit surreal. I’m still waiting for the shoe to drop. It hasn’t. I think I got lucky in that Marvel wants to take risks and do something different.”

Kevin Feige, the producerial mastermind behind the MCU, was into Zhao’s “something different” vision of Eternals from the jump: “Her initial pitch to us was fascinating. And frankly one of the reasons we moved forward on the movie was because of the vision that she brought to it.” This initial vision involved, according to Zhao, “deep, strong, manga roots” and the desire to go “further and bigger” than Avengers: Endgame “because I’m not just making the film as a director. I’m making the film as a fan.”

What are some of the bigger, further moves being made? Well, for one, a straight up Bollywood dance sequence. Kumail Nanjiani‘s character is a Bollywood star, and spoke radiantly about this sequence: “When I walked onto the set and saw a huge group of brown people who were going to be in a Marvel movie, I felt such gratitude towards Chloé for creating the situation. The scene was full of joy.” It sounds like Zhao is interested in making this joy accessible and inclusive to all, too: “I wanted it to reflect the world we live in. But also I wanted to put a cast together that feels like a group of misfits. I didn’t want the jocks. I want you to walk away at the end of the movie not thinking, ‘This person is this ethnicity, that person is that nationality.’ No. I want you to walk away thinking, ‘That’s a family.’”

Eternals will be released in theaters February 12, 2021. For more on the upcoming MCU flick, here’s a look at some initial footage.

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